The Five Golden Rules Of Train Travel That Nobody Follows

The Five Golden Rules Of Train Travel That Nobody Follows
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Over the past year, I’ve had to catch trains to and from work every day. In that time, I’ve learnt that the thriving mass of humanity known as “commuters” don’t actually practice great train etiquette. In fact, a huge percentage don’t practice any train etiquette at all. It’s time to change that.

There are so many ways to make the daily trip to and from work a peaceful experience. If we, as a species, can’t work out how to make the commute to work enjoyable for everyone, or at the very least bearable, we’re doomed. I’m telling you, there’s dark times ahead. Forget climate change, forget nuclear war, it’s the public transport system that will end us all.

From boarding to alighting, here are the steps you can take to maintain Great Train Etiquette.


Trains work just like bowels. They need to be emptied before they can be filled.

Do not try and get on a train that has just pulled into the station and opened its doors. Particularly in peak hour, there are so many people that first need to get off the train before you can get in. Allow them to do so by moving to the side of the platform and lining up where the door opens. People currently on the train will be able to depart, which will mean there’s extra room inside the train for you to take up.

It’s a simple concept backed up by the basic laws of physics. Matter takes up space. More matter cannot take up the same space until the previous matter is no longer in that space. Don’t fight physics.


One of the critical steps as soon as you are inside a train carriage is that you move away from the doors, if you can. These points serve as entry and exit points for fellow passengers and thus are high traffic areas. Moving deeper into the carriage will mean that more people can get on without struggling past you or hitting you with their bags or stepping on your toes. You don’t want your toes to be stepped on, do you?

A lot of people are averse to standing in the aisle and for good reason. In theory, the deeper that you go, the harder it will be to get out of the train. But if you change your behaviours about alighting at a station with the next rule, then we can all go as deep as we want and still get out of the train with minimal fuss.


Trains can get so busy that you may not even be able to breathe, let alone move around the carriage. I get that. Of course, if this is the case, it makes it very difficult for people to get off the train. But there’s such an easy fix. When a train gets to the station you should move from the inside of the carriage to the outside to allow other passengers to exit. This will mean that you are at the front of the queue to get back into the train, which means that you won’t ‘lose your spot’, you’ll actually improve it!


As a general rule, everybody that gets onto a train wants to sit down. It’s more comfortable and it’s much easier to look at your smartphone when you’re not constantly worried about falling over. The first rule here is obvious: if you’re perfectly capable of standing and someone else clearly isn’t then it’s time to give up your seat. Just do it. Put that positive energy out into the world. People with disabilities, pregnant women, the elderly – these are all people that deserve to have a good sit down on a busy train.

General DON’Ts in terms of seating:

    Don’t put your bag on the seat – as an unthinking, unfeeling piece of woven material, it is completely okay if you put it on the ground. It won’t hate you.

    Don’t put your feet on the seat – feet and shoes are in constant contact with the ground, which is in constant contact with other people’s feet and shoes. It’s just gross.

    Don’t leave the middle seat empty – particularly important during peak hour, leaving the middle seat empty should make you feel bad.

    Don’t make someone climb over you when you can easily slide across and fill the space. The extra half-a-metre won’t hurt you.

    Don’t sit on things that aren’t seats, like stairs or the floor.


It’s actually kind of sad that I have to physically exert the energy and write those words out because it should be absolutely obvious why this is taboo. The first thing: I don’t care about your ‘Sandstorm’ remix. The second thing: Even if I did care about your ‘Sandstorm’ remix, I don’t want to hear it at the beginning of the day when I haven’t really woken up yet OR the end of the day, when I feel utterly devoid of life. Please keep your music firmly planted in your own earholes. There’s plenty of cheap, decent headphones to invest in.


  • #6 Don’t play music through your headphones so loud that you show everyone just how empty your head is, because it echos out like a speaker, negating the reason for using headphones in the first place

  • With rule #1, I’ve noticed in Queensland at least that people for the most part have been pretty good about standing to the side to let other people off first. Probably also helps that Queensland Rail had an awesome advertising campaign for train etiquette.

  • I’d also add, if you are in a quiet carriage, don’t be that obnoxious person who has to talk on their phone as loud as possible or that group of colleagues who start an impromptu work meeting.

    I loved Tokyo and Osaka and their metro networks. Phone calls and talking anything above a hushed tone are very frowned upon. This means that the trains are very peaceful and quiet a lot of the time. While I don’t certainly want to enforce that over here with all trains etc, it would certainly help if people were a bit more considerate about the assigned quiet zones and go make noise in the rest of the train.

    • I agree but I tried to avoid the talking on the phone thing – largely because I understand that sometimes… you just have to take a call. In Sydney, the first and last carriage are quiet carriages. So don’t take a call there.

      Basically most of this boils down to: Be A Good Person.

      • I stopped commuting not long before quiet carriages became A Thing, and the first time I say in one was on the last leg of a long trip home.

        So, when the phone rang, I answered without thinking. Was my sister arranging to pick me up. Anyhow, wasn’t a long chat, but when I finished I became VERY aware of all the glaring being done in my direction…

        Thought it was a little rude myself, it was an honest mistake on my part that a quick comment would have solved. Still, lesson learned.

        I understand the quiet carriage etiquette though, they’re there for good reason. Its #1 that always pissed me off when commuting, to the point I’d block that person pushing their way on, and back them up off the train. And usually a word in their ear as I pushed past THEM about letting people off first.

      • I think it could be described as “Keep phone calls short, quiet and avoid if possible”. It’s rare that you need to make a call on public transport, and conversations should not be a wide ranging time-killer. A massive peeve of mine are people who get on the bus or train, whip out the phone, dial somebody, then maintain a banal conversation for the duration of the trip at a volume that headphones don’t block out. The worst.

        And yes, I am a cranky old man. Get off my damn lawn/bus/train!

        • I’m with you! Getting on a train and then starting a conversation is terrible. I think good Train Etiquette says that if you try and keep it brief, quiet and polite, it’s really not going to trouble anyone – just like in a place of work.

      • No, you do not ‘just have to take a call’ on an obnoxious, intrusive, irritating telephone. Time for people to learn telephone manners in public places.(and good manners of other descriptions.)

    • This so much. There is nothing worse than sitting in a quiet carriage and then having some idiot answer his phone and proceed to loudly continue the phone call forcing all of us to listen. Sometimes I’ve almost felt like grabbing that persons phone. Breaking it and telling them to STFU.

  • Another for the list, take your back pack/shoulder bag/handbag off when standing in a crowded vestibule/aisle. It takes up unnecessary space and you will end up whacking someone with it. Don’t be surprised if someone knocks it off your shoulder in reaction.

  • The issues have been known for ever but a solution still eludes us.
    I generally have to take a running leap to exit at town hall station (Syd) in the mornings otherwise i get pushed to the back by people getting on, no one seems to give a shit these days unless they can have a facebook rant over it.

  • There’s nothing more obnoxious than a person putting a bag on the window seat while sitting on the aisle just to NOT have anyone seating next to them. When I see that I purposefully ask to go seat there, although some other seats are available.

    • I try to do this. I do. But then I get stuck halfway down the carriage, pushing past other people to get out, because it’s not easy to get twenty people in front of you to file out and back in again because one doofus (me) didn’t prepare properly to get out. Rule 3 is not something people tend to follow, in my experience, though they do try to let you past.
      The only way I can think of solving this problem is to have the entire side of the train made of doors, so there’s always a close way out.

  • Simple as it seems, some people with the right intentions still manage to get rule #1 wrong.

    I’ll never forget the time, shortly after I moved to Melbourne, when an older lady heading home from a footy game loudly criticised a young Asian woman for getting on the train without waiting for others to depart. Fair criticism. Except the older lady and her crowd of footy supporters were completely blocking the exit making it quite difficult for people to get off the train.

  • It’s the same on buses. People look studiously at their screens in order to avoid eye contact with someone who needs a seat more.

    And FFS MOVE TO THE BACK OF THE BUS so that people aren’t left stranded at bus stops while buses zoom past.

    • I’m with you, but from the other side of the fence it can be hard to determine who needs that seat more. I’ve had back problems for over 20 years, and while they aren’t dramatically serious, they do present an issue if I’m standing for an extended length of time.

      There’s been more than one occasion that someone has expected me to stand up, merely for courtesy, when even a 10 minute trip standing can mean hours or days of pain. And more than once I’ve been judged as a result, with snarky comments about not giving a seat up for someone.

      Not all reasons are visible, but they’re still there.

      When I was commuting intercity by train, it did become an issue more than once, particularly when suburban commuters used the intercity trains as their shortcut, and left no seats for up to 30 minutes.

      • I have the bad-back issue too, and a few jolting turns while standing on public transport can give me weeks of pain. Getting teen-20-somethings to pay attention is another matter. If no one responds the only option is trying to get the attention of the driver, and plenty of them just don’t want to get involved in any passenger confrontation.

  • And no. 6, when disembarking, let the queue in the aisle file out first, then get out of your seat. Stopping the queue to let someone in during exit is a very disruptive exercise in fake manners and slows the emptying of the carriage as the whole queue shunts to a halt, then starts, then stops for another misplaced moronic gesture, then starts, then stops…

  • All so, so true.

    Another one I find is if you are on a full peak hour train, and you’ve been kind enough to move deep into the aisle. People will start pushing past you almost climbing over seats to get near the doors ready for the station.

    I’ve been heading towards town hall/wynard and had this happen on so many occasions, whereby on the bridge from North Sydney people are bulldozing past everyone else to get near the door. 80% of the train is about to disembark, just chill, you’ll make it off.

  • I didn’t notice how crap we were at rush hour train travel until I left Aussie. Once you’ve spent some time in REALLY busy places like London or NYC, coming back will make you hate every other slow moving, disorganised, myki-loosing, path-blocking Aussie for about an hour a day for the first couple of months back. Then you become one of them again lol.

    Although… the fact that there’s only about 1/1000th as many of us here will also be hugely appreciated! The fact that every one of our cities lacks adiquate public transport will not be however.

  • China, needs to learn about Rule#1, wait for people to exit the train before you enter it.
    after a while, i had to fight my way out.
    hehe, good memories of hitting a guy with my elbow real hard when exit the train as he was aggressively trying to get into the train

  • Don’t leave the middle seat empty – particularly important during peak hour, leaving the middle seat empty should make you feel bad.

    Trains have middle seats?

    • Yup. Usually have 2 seats one side of the aisle, 3 seats the other side. At least here in NSW on the double decker carriages, where the side the stairs are on dictates where the aisle is – stair side is 2 seats, other is 3.

      Other states would differ, like Qld where I don’t think they have double deckers.

      Those 3 seaters are usually filled by only 2 people, with the middle seat being viewed as a No Go Zone for many. Those sitting usually spread themselves out so there seems less space to sit in, but its there.

  • Rule #0: If rows of seats free up and you’re squishing someone into the window seat whom is obviously uncomfortable and effectively has their face plastered against the window like a dead insect, move your arse over to one of those free seats!!!! FOR THE LOVE OF STUFF AND THINGS!! JUST MOVE PLEASE!!!

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